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the sky, above that vast water desert of the Pacific, toward four o'clock on the evening of the 23d day of March, 1865.
Doubtless no one has forgotten the terrible north-eastern wini-storm which was unchained toward the middle of the equinox of that year, and during which the barometer fell to seven hundred and ten millimeters. It was a hurricane which raged without intermission from the 18th to the 26th of March. The ravages which it caused were immense in America, in Europe, in Asia, over a zone eighteen hundred miles wide, which extended obliquely to the equator, from the thirty-fifth as far as the fortieth northern parallel. Overturned cities, uprooted forests, coasts devastated by mountains of water, which precipitated themselves like sandbars; ships hurled upon land, that the statistics of the Bureau Veritas counted up by hundreds; entire territories leveled by water spouts, which broke down everything in their passage-such were the testimonials of its fury left behind it by this formidable hurricane. It surpassed in disastrous results those which so frightfully ravaged Havana and Guadeloupe, one on October 25, 1810, and the other on the 26th of July, 1825.
Now, at the same time that so many catastrophes were accomplished on land and sea, a drama, no less frightful, was in progress in the perturbed skies.
In fact, a balloon, carried like a ball to the summit of a water-spout, and caught in the giratory movement of the column of air, was spinning through space at a speed of ninety miles an hour, turning round and round on itself as if it had been seized by some aërial maelstrom.
Beneath the lower rigging of this balloon swung to and fro a basket, which contained five passengers, hardly visible amid the dense vapors, mingled with pulverized water, which trailed along the surface of the ocean.
have had at their disposition any means of estimating the route passed over since their departure, because all data were lacking. This curious fact even occurred, that, carried headlong into the midst of the violences of the tempest, they did not suffer from them. They were jostled about, they were spun around without feeling anything of that rotation, or of the toppling in a horizontal sense Their eyes could not pierce the dense fog which gathered beneath the basket. Around them all was mist. Such even was the opacity of the clouds, that they could not have told whether it were day or night. No reflection of light, no noise of inhabited lands, no bellowing of the ocean, could have drifted up to them in that obscure immensity, so long as they were held in the high zones. Their rapid descent alone had given them a realizing sense of the dangers which they incurred from the waves.
Nevertheless, the balloon, unballasted of heavy objects, such as munitions, arms, provisions, had arisen into the upper strata of the atmosphere to a height of four thousand five hundred feet. The passengers, after having seen that the sea extended on every side under the basket, finding the dangers above less redoubtable than those below, had not hesitated to throw overboard even the most useful objects, and. sought to lose no more of that fluid,—that soul of their balloon,-which sustained them above the abyss.
The night was passed in the midst of inquietudes which would have proved mortal to less energetic souls. Then day re-appeared, and with the advent of light, the tempest showed a tendency to moderate. From the earliest hours of that day of the 24th of March there had been some symptoms of calm. At dawn, the clouds becoming more vesicular, had remounted to the heights of the sky. In a few hours the waterspout widened and broke. The wind passed from the condition of hurricane into that of a stiff, fresh breeze-that is to say that the speed of the removal of the atmospheric strata diminished by one-half. It was still what sailors call a "three-reefed breeze," but the amelioration in the trouble of the elements was none the less consider
Whence came that balloon, a very play. thing of the frightful tempest? From what point in the world had it darted forth? It evidently could not have started during the storm. Now the hurricane had already lasted five days, and its first symptoms were manifested on the 18th. One would, then, | able. have been justified in believing that this balloon came from very far away, because it could not have traveled less than two thousand miles every twenty-four hours.
At all events, the passengers could not
Toward eleven o'clock the lower region of the air was perceptibly changed. The atmosphere gave off that humid limpidness which is seen, which is even felt, after the passage of great meteors. It did not seem
that the hurricane had gone further toward the west; it appeared to have destroyed itself. Had it, perhaps, flown away in electric sheets, after the rupture of the water-spout, as sometimes happens to the typhoons of the Indian Ocean?
But toward that hour also, one might have again feared that the balloon was slowly descending by a continuous movement into the lower strata of the air. It even seemed that it became smaller little by little, and that its envelope lengthened out, passing from the spheric to an ovoid form.
About noon the balloon no longer hovered higher than two thousand feet above the sea. It gauged fifty thousand cubic feet, and, thanks to its capacity, it would evidently have been able to keep itself for a long time in the air, either because it would have attained great altitudes, or because it was turned partially over in a horizontal direction.
At this moment the passengers threw out the last objects which still weighed down the car, the few provisions they had preserved,-all-even to the cooking utensils stuffed in their pockets, and one of them, climbing upon the circle which united the cords of the net, sought to solidly bind the lower appendage of the balloon. It was evident that the passengers could no longer maintain the balloon in the elevated zones, and that the gas was giving
They were lost, then!
It was neither a continent, nor even an island, spread out beneath them. The space offered nowhere a single point of landing-not a solid surface upon which their anchor could take hold.
It was the immense sea, whose waves still clashed against each other with incomparable violence. It was the ocean, without visible limits, even for those who overlooked it from on high, and whose gaze then swept a radius of forty miles. It was that liquid plain, beaten without mercy, thrashed by the hurricane, which must have appeared to them like a gallopade of disheveled balloons, upon which had been thrown a vast network of white crests. No land in sight; not a ship!
It was necessary, then, at all hazards, to stop the descending movement to prevent the balloon from being engulphed in the midst of the waves; and it was evidently this urgent operation at which the passengers in the car were busy. But
despite their efforts the balloon descended constantly, at the same time that it changed its course with extreme velocity, following the direction of the wind-that is to say, from north-east to south-west.
A terrible situation, that of these unfortunates! They were evidently no longer masters of the balloon. Their endeavors were fruitless; the envelope of the air-ship decreased more and more. The fluid escaped without any possibility of retaining it. The descent was visibly accelerated, and, an hour after noon, the car was suspended not more than six hundred feet above the ocean.
It was, in fact, impossible to prevent the flight of the gas, which escaped freely through a large rent in the sack of the balloon.
By lightening the car of all the objects which it contained, the passengers had been able to prolong their suspension in the air for some hours. But the inevitable catastrophe could only be delayed, and if some land did not disclose itself ere nightfall, passengers, car and balloon would have finally disappeared beneath the
The only manoeuvre still left to perform was accomplished at that moment. The balloon passengers were evidently energetic people, who knew how to look death in the face. Not a single murmur had been heard to escape from their lips. The car was only a kind of wicker case, unfit to float, and there was no possibility of maintaining it on the surface of the sea, if it fell there.
At two o'clock the balloon was scarcely two hundred feet above the water.
At that moment, a manly voice, that of one whose heart was inaccessible to fear, made itself heard. To that voice responded no less energetic voices.
"Is everything thrown out ?"
"No there is still ten thousand francs in gold."
A heavy sack fell, at the same instant, into the sea.
"Is the balloon rising again?"
"A little, but it will not be long in falling back."
What is there left to throw away?” "Nothing."
held the car were cut, and after its fall the balloon ascended two thousand feet.
The five passengers had hoisted themselves into the net, above the ring, and supported themselves in the labyrinth of meshes, looking down into the abyss. Every one knows with what static sensibility balloons are endowed. To throw out the lightest object is sufficient to provoke a toppling from a vertical line. The apparatus, floating in the air, is like a balance, of mathematical precision. One comprehends, then, how, when it is lightened of a relatively considerable weight, the toppling will be important and abrupt. That is what happened on this occasion.
But, after having poised itself an instant in the upper zones, the balloon began to redescend. The gas continued escaping from the rent, which it was impossible to repair.
The passengers had done all that they could. Henceforth no human means could
save them. They had nothing more save the aid of God to count on.
At four o'clock, the balloon was only five hundred feet above the surface of the
A sonorous barking was heard. A dog accompanied the passengers, and held himself embedded near his master in the meshes of the net.
"Top sees something!" cried one of the
Then, at the same instant, a strong voice was heard.
The balloon which the wind did not cease carrying towards the south-west, had, since dawn, traversed a considerable distance, which footed up hundreds of miles, and, in fact, a rather extended point of land did loom up in that direction.
But that land was still thirty miles to leeward. It would demand not less than a full hour to reach it, and that on condition of not drifting to leeward. An hour! Would not the balloon long before that be emptied of all that it had kept of its fluid?
At four o'clock, it was plain that the balloon could no longer sustain itself. Already the crests of enormous waves had many times dashed against the lower part of the net, weighing it down still farther, and the air-ship no longer more than half raised itself, like a bird with a bullet in its wing.
Half an hour later, the land was only a mile distant, but the balloon, exhausted, flabby, distended, rumpled in great folds, now retained no gas save in its upper part. Even the passengers, hanging to the net, weighed too much for it, and soon, half plunged into the sea, they were beaten by the furious waves. The envelope of the balloon then opened like a pocket, and the wind, rushing in, pushed it forward as an after wind pushes a ship. Perhaps it would thus succeed in reaching
It was within two cable's lengths of it, when terrible cries, torn from four breasts at once, echoed loudly. The balloon, which seemed unlikely to ascend any more, made an unexpected bound again, after having been struck by a formidable billow. As if it had suddenly been lightened of a new portion of its weight, it remounted to the height of fifteen hundred feet, and there encountered a kind of wind-eddy which, instead of carrying it directly on to the coast, made it follow an almost parallel direction. Finally, two minutes later, it came nearer to it obliquely, and fell upon the sand of the shore out of the reach of the waves.
The passengers, aiding each other, succeeded in extricating themselves from the meshes of the net. The balloon, relieved of their weight, was taken once more by the wind, and, like a wounded bird who finds again an instant of vigor, it disappeared in
The car had contained five passengers, plus a dog, and the balloon cast only four of them on the shore.
The missing passenger had evidently been carried off by the billow which had struck the net, and that it was which had permitted the lightened balloon to ascend a last time, and then, some instants later, to reach land.
Hardly had the four shipwrecked persons. -we may give them that name,-set their feet on the soil, than all, thinking of the absent one, cried out
"Perhaps he is trying to swim ashore. Let us save him! Let us save him!"
AN EPISODE OF THE WAR OF SECESSION-THE ENGINEER CYRUS SMITH-GIDEON SPILETT-THE NEGRO NEB-PENCROFF, THE SAILOR-YOUNG HARBERT-AN UNEXPECTED PROPOSITION
ive cleverness of mind. His muscles offered remarkable evidences of tonicity. Really a man of action quite as much as a man of thought, he acted without effort under the influence of a large vital expansion,
A RENDEZVOUS AT TEN IN THE EVENING having that vivacious persistence which de
DEPARTURE IN "THE TEMPEST."
THOSE Whom the hurricane had thrown upon this coast were neither professional aeronauts, nor lovers of aërial expeditions. They were prisoners of war whose audacity had pushed them to flight under extraordinary circumstances. A hundred times had they narrowly escaped perishing! A hundred times their torn balloon might have been expected to precipitate them into the abyss. But Heaven reserved a strange destiny for them, and on the 20th of March, after having fled from Richmond, besieged by the troops of General Ulysses Grant, they found themselves seven thousand miles from that capital of Virginia, the principal stronghold of the separatists during the war of Secession. Their ærial navigation had lasted five days.
Now let us see under what curious circumstances the escape of the prisoners took place an escape destined to end in the catastrophe with which we are acquainted. That same year, in the month of February, 1865, in one of those bold efforts which Gen. Grant made for the possession of Richmond, but in vain, many of his officers fell into the hands of the enemy, and were quartered in the city. One of the most distinguished of those taken belonged to the Federal staff, and his name Cyrus Smith.
Cyrus Smith, a native of Massachusetts, was an engineer, a savan of the first order, to whom the Union government had confided, during the war, the direction of the railroads, whose strategic rôle during the war of Secession was so great. A veritable American of the North, meager, bony, thinflanked, aged about forty-five, there were already threads of gray in his close cut hair and in the dense mustache, which was the only remnant of his beard. He had one of those fine "numismatic" heads, which seem made to be stamped upon medals,-ardent eyes-a serious mouth,-the physiognomy of a savant of the fighting school. one of those engineers who preferred to begin by handling hammer and pickaxe, like those generals who chose to commence as simple soldiers. He was gifted with supreme dexterity of hand as well as invent
fies all bad luck. Well educated, extremely practical, a very "unraveler,”—to use a term from French military language, he had e superb temperament, because, in addition to remaining master of himself whatever might be the circumstances, he fulfilled in the highest degree those three conditions whose combination determines human energy: activity of mind and body, impetuosity of desire, power of will. And his device might have been that of William of Orange in the seventeenth century: "I do not need to hope in order to undertake, nor to succeed in order to persevere."
At the same time, Cyrus Smith was courage personified. He had been in all the battles during that war of Secession. ter having commenced in the Illinois volunteers under Ulysses Grant, he fought at Paducah, at Belmont, at PittsburgLanding, at the siege of Corinth, at PortGibson, at the Black River, at Chattanooga, in the Wilderness, on the Potomac, everywhere and valiantly, as a worthy soldier of the General who replied "I never count my dead." And a hundred times Cyrus Smith had narrowly escaped being among the number of those whom the terrible Grant did not count, but in those combats, where he never spared himself, chance favored him until the moment when he was wounded and taken on the field of battle before Richmond.
At the same time with Cyrus Smith, and the same day, another important personage fell into the power of the Southerners. This was none less than the Honorable Gideon Spilett, reporter of the New York Herald, who had been charged to follow the events of the war from the midst of the Northern armies.
Gideon Spilett was of the race of those astonishing English or American chroniclers, the Stanleys and others, who recoil before nothing in order to obtain exact information and transmit it to their journal with briefest delay. The journals of the Union, such as the New York Herald, constitute real powers, and their delegates are representatives that one may count on. Gideon Spilett was in the first rank of these delegates.
A man of great merit, energetic, prompt